Public service values
The board and committee members of The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland (CCNI) must at all times:
- observe the highest standards of impartiality, integrity and objectivity in relation to the advice they provide and the management of the organisation;
- be accountable to the Northern Ireland Assembly and the public more generally for its activities and for the standard of advice it provides; and
- in accordance with Government policy on openness, comply fully with the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information.
The Minister for Social Development is answerable to the Northern Ireland Assembly for the policies and performance of CCNI, including the policy framework within which it operates.
Standards in Public Life
All board members must
- follow the Seven Principles of Public Life set out by the Committee on Standards in Public Life (see Annex 1);
- comply with this Code, and ensure they understand their duties, rights and responsibilities, and that they are familiar with the function and role of this body and any relevant statements of Government policy. New board members should attend relevant training or induction courses as required.
- not misuse information gained in the course of their public service for personal gain or for political purpose, nor seek to use the opportunity of public service to promote their private interests or those of connected persons, firms, businesses or other organisations;
- not hold any paid or high-profile unpaid posts in a political party, and not engage in specific political activities on matters directly affecting the work of this body. When engaging in other political activities, board members should be conscious of their public role and exercise proper discretion. These restrictions do not apply to MPs (in those cases where MPs are eligible to be appointed), to local councillors, or to Peers in relation to their conduct in the House of Lords;
- act in good faith and in the best interests of the public body; and
- ensure that they comply with the board's rules on the acceptance of gifts and hospitality.
Role of board members
Members of the board have collective responsibility for the operation of CCNI. They must:
- ensure that high standards of corporate governance are observed at all times;
- establish the overall strategic direction of the organisation within the policy and resources framework agreed with the Minister for Social Development;
- ensure that the board operates within the limits of its statutory authority and any delegated authority agreed with Department for Social Development (DSD), and in accordance with any other conditions relating to the use of public funds;
- engage fully in collective consideration of the issues, taking account of the full range of relevant factors, including any guidance issued by the Department for Social Development or the Social Development Minister;
- ensure that the code of Practice on Access to Government Information (including prompt responses to public requests for information) is adhered to; agree an Annual Report; and, where practicable and appropriate, hold at least one meeting a year in public; and
- respond appropriately to complaints, if necessary with reference to the sponsor department.
- treat any staff employed by CCNI with courtesy and respect. It is expected that employees will show the same consideration in return.
- treat discussions, documents or other information relating to the work of CCNI in a confidential manner where appropriate.
Communications between the board and the minister will generally be through the chair except where the board has agreed that an individual member should act on its behalf. Nevertheless, any board member has the right of access to ministers on any matter which he or she believes raises important issues relating to his or her duties as a board member. In such cases the agreement of the rest of the board should normally be sought.
Individual board members can normally be removed from office by the minister if they fail to perform the duties required of them in line with the standards expected in public office.
The role of the chair
The chair has particular responsibility for providing effective leadership on the issues above. In addition, the chair is responsible for
- ensuring that the board meets at appropriate intervals, and that the minutes of meeting and any reports to the Minister accurately record the decisions taken and, where appropriate, the views of individual board members;
- representing the views of the board to the general public; and
- ensuring that new board members are briefed on appointment (and their training needs considered), and providing a regular assessment of their performance.
Handling conflicts of interests
The purpose of these provisions is to avoid any danger of board members being influenced, or appearing to be influenced, by their private interests in the exercise of their public duties.
Charity Commissioners and Committee members may be trustees/management committee members, but not office bearers, of charities in Northern Ireland. If, on appointment as Charity Commissioner or Committee member, an individual is already involved as an office bearer of a charity, a reasonable period may be agreed with the Chief Commissioner and Chief Executive for withdrawing from the office-bearer position and allowing the charity to make alternative arrangements. The Chair and Chief Executive may not be trustees/management committee members of any charity.
All Commissioners and Committee members should declare any personal or business interest which may, or may be perceived (by a reasonable member of the public) to, influence their judgement. This should include personal direct and indirect pecuniary interests, and non-pecuniary interests in any charitable body in Northern Ireland. Where contract work is being undertaken which may lead to real or perceived conflict of interest, this should be raised with the Chief Commissioner and Chief Executive on a case-by-case basis.
Indirect pecuniary interests arise from connections with bodies which have a direct pecuniary interest or from being a business partner of, or being employed by, a person with such an interest. Non-pecuniary interests include those arising from membership of clubs and other organisations.
Declarations should also be made of the direct and indirect pecuniary interests of close family members and of people living in the same household. Close family members include personal partners, parents, children (adult and minor), brothers, sisters and the personal partners of any of these.
The register of interests should be kept up-to-date and be open to the public. A declaration of any interest should also be made at any board meeting if it relates specifically to a particular issue under consideration, for recording in the minutes (whether or not a board member also withdraws from the meeting).
Board members and Committee members should not participate in the discussion or determination of matters in which they have an interest, and should normally withdraw from the meeting (even if held in public) if:
- their interest is direct and pecuniary; or
- their interest is covered in specific guidance issued by CCNI or the Department for Social Development which requires them not to participate and/or to withdraw from the meeting.
Personal liability of board members
Legal proceedings by a third party against individual board members of advisory bodies are very exceptional. A board member may be personally liable if he or she makes a fraudulent or negligent statement which results in a loss to a third party; or may commit a breach of confidence under common law or a criminal offence under insider dealing legislation, if he or she misuses information gained through their position.
However, the Government has indicated that individual board members who have acted honestly, reasonably, in good faith and without negligence will not have to meet out of their own personal resources any personal civil liability which is incurred in execution or purported execution of their board functions. Board members who need further advice should consult the sponsor department.
THE SEVEN PRINCIPLES OF PUBLIC LIFE
Holders of public office should take decisions solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends.
Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisation that might influence them in the performance of their official duties.
In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.
Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.
Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.
Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interests.
Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.